Mind Matters — Metro Meanderings To Meet the Dalai Lama

Did you know that public restrooms with fresh flowers placed in them are kept cleaner and tidier than those lacking bouquets? Patrons using the facilities actually become more attentive and caring of their surroundings. Indeed, we humans do interact with our environment. A little beauty goes a long way.

I had been pondering the findings of the above study while I attended an eleven-day event in Washington, D.C., with the Dalai Lama. The intention of his program was World Peace through Inner Peace. I studied his gentle face, twinkling eyes, warm smile, and hearty laugh. Meanwhile, on my trek through the Metro, I would notice the visage of Rupert Murdoch at newspaper kiosks—thin-lipped and mean-spirited looking, the diametric opposite of the Dalai Lama’s gentle, yet authoritative, demeanor.

OK, one may not be able to tell a book by its cover, but there has been much psychological research on facial expression and body language. Paul Ekman, Ph.D., and his colleagues, have studied thousands of faces and facial expressions and have found that there is complex communication occurring constantly through our facial muscles, and, of course, through our eyes.

Paul Ekman himself visited the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. While being in the presence of His Holiness, he felt a transformation of his own chronic anger. Though the euphoria of this encounter faded, Ekman notes his reactivity was quelled.

The Dalai Lama’s message is not unlike the psychology of well-being. We do need to learn inner peace; we do need to temper our own reactivity. Becoming aware of our own judgments and reactions to ourselves and others is the step to peace in the family, peace in the nation, peace in the world. I often wonder what it would have been like for Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who was a contemporary of Freud, to have met the Dalai Lama. Jung, too, believed that the way to world harmony was for the individual to have awareness of the self and to find inner peace.

Neither Jung nor the Dalai Lama would boast a world of no conflict: Disagreements are bound to occur. Respectful dialogue is the key to resolution. And dialogue is perhaps the antidote to exploitation of others. This may have Ayn Rand rolling in her grave, but the Buddhist view is really no different than any other world religion (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Native American, and so on) that admonishes us NOT to “utilize others for oneself.” That is do not exploit others (or the earth, for that matter) for your own ends.

In fact, when we exploit others and our world, we are only destroying ourselves. The Dalai Lama reminds us:

“The fact of human interdependence is so explicit now. … the only peace it is meaningful to speak of is world peace. Destruction of your neighbors is essentially destruction of yourself. Our future depends on global well-being. We each have a role to play in this. When … we disarm ourselves internally, we create the conditions for external disarmament.”

So was my anecdote about flowers in restrooms a total non sequitor? Or is it that both flowers and the Dalai Lama’s smile lightens our hearts in a way that Rupert Murdoch’s bottom line does not?

Ponder instead the Dalai Lama’s words:

“World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not the absence of violence. Peace is the manifestation of human compassion.”